Interview by Jason Guest
Jason: Congratulations on your latest album, A Shadowplay For Yesterdays; it’s a very impressive album indeed (Jason’s review is here). How has it been received by fans and critics?
The Gentleman: Thank you for your flattering appraisal, sir! I have to say that even at this early stage the response has been genuinely overwhelming. There’s not really much I can add to that, it’s left us slightly speechless (which quite a few people would consider A Good Thing).
Jason: The press release for A Shadowplay For Yesterdays says the album “is aspiring for even greater things, surpassing itself in the process.” How have A Forest of Stars developed since Opportunistic Thieves of Spring?
The Gentleman: More than anything, it’s a natural progression. I think we’re largely done with the longer song lengths and more extreme/harsh end of black metal (not that we ever particularly anything to do with that anyway) – we’ve said what we need to and now it’s time to move on. There is so much more to explore and see and do, so we tend to wander where our collective minds’ drift and just let whatever happens take shape.
Curse: Personally I would be very sorry to see our harsher side usurped completely, though I am happy to embrace progression! I think that as long as we do not lose sight of what we are at the core, then we can apply ourselves to whatever we please stylistically.
Jason: Are there any tracks on the album that stand out for you? Are there any that you think mark a significant development for the band or indicate where you see the band heading in future?
The Gentleman: I think “A Prophet…” is a song that encompasses and encapsulates everything about the band at this point in time; I’m also very fond of the bonus track (Dead Love), but that might be just because I haven’t heard it as many times as the rest! As for the future and indications, I have no idea. We’ll need to wait and see how the new songs take shape and develop.
Curse: I am very proud of the album as a whole. It is difficult to set one song aside from the others for me.
Jason: With two new members being added to the line-up since Opportunistic Thieves of Spring, how has this affected the writing and the sound of the band?
The Gentleman: Originally, myself and Kettleburner were the two main writers (as in, we would come up with the basis/structures for songs – we all contribute equally, just in different ways), and we tended to write in very different directions, but be tethered and tempered by each other. After he left, that meant I was the primary song writer and everything shifted in one direction. When new members joined, they helped consolidate that new direction (especially HH Bronsdon, who co-wrote most of the basic song structures with me), and thus you have a new set of dynamics. But I must stress, everyone put their stamp on what we do and how we sound. Everyone gives their valuable contribution.
Jason: Why did you choose to add more musicians to the band? What was it that you were looking for when seeking out new musicians for A Forest of Stars? And what have the new members brought to the band?
The Gentleman: Put simply, when we started we never intended to play live. And as we each played at least two instruments on the record, it was impossible to do so. After we were coerced into gigging, we had to put together a group of session musicians from our friends who were willing to help out. Over time, the boundaries blurred and in the end, they became as much a part of the band as us and it was only right to include them fully in the line-up.
Curse: Each of the new members has brought their own unique talents and personalities to the band, and it is an honour to be playing with and associated with such great people. I think that their combined styles and tastes have added to the band wonderfully.
Jason: Now that there are seven members in the band, how do A Forest of Stars work together to create songs? Is it a collaborative effort or do you write individually? Do you discuss ideas about what you want to achieve with each track or is it an evolutionary process? Do all of the members of AFOS contribute?
The Gentleman: It varies, to be honest. For this album, I demoed a chunk of songs, HH Bronsdon worked with me on a few (and vice versa) and Gastrix sorted (an amazing!) one. But that’s just the initial stage: After that, everyone added their own stamp to it – we are a collective. It would be impossible for all seven of us to try and write a song at the same time in one room – it would simply be chaos. So we need to sketch out the initial song first, then we can get going with the interesting parts.
Jason: The album title is very intriguing. What inspired it? And how does it relate to the music?
Curse: The general idea behind the title was to insinuate a sort of flash back effect for the protagonist – scenes flickering behind his eyes as he passes from this plane to another… It relates to the music in that each song is a fragment of his story, each a part of the shadowplay.
Jason: The concept of the album deals “with a man at odds with himself, torn between virtue and the path of blasphemous (self-) destruction.” Being at variance with oneself and with the world is a common theme in Victorian literature. Do you think this theme has as much if not more relevance in contemporary culture?
Curse: The concept is certainly relevant to the culture of modern times. Whilst I wrote most of the lyrics with the intention of not making them too personal (our other records have contained very personal lyrics, and I wanted to take a few steps away from that) there are actually many sections that are written from a more personal perspective. To try to answer your question, I would say that so called modern culture is stuffed to bursting with people milling around themselves, lost of purpose and direction. I think the album’s concept fits well with this situation.
Jason: A Forest of Stars references the Victorian era in its image, its concepts, lyrics and music. What is it that is so intriguing about this era for the band to explore it for their music?
The Gentleman: There’s so much to explore related to both the tangible and intangible regarding that particular subject that sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, without incoherently rambling for days on end. Put simply, we are fascinated by the dichotomy of the period. There was this fantastic Britishness and stiff upper lip attitude, and an outer appearance of indomitableness and perfection, of saintly preserve and human perfection, as if they’d achieved full enlightenment and knew better than anyone. And yet, under the surface, they were just like any other human being in history: a slave to base desires, emotions and needs. And so, what they considered to be filthy and uncouth was repressed and pushed far beneath the surface, and if it ever dared to rear its head in public, that was it – you were condemned for life, and yet those condemning were just as bad and practiced the same things – they just kept quiet about it. So there was this big mess of holier-than-thou piousness, mixed with sordid desires and a rigid society that would not allow these things to be shown, leading to a pent up bunch of walking weirdos who somehow managed to come out on top of the world. It’s all thoroughly bizarre and amazing that it ever happened! Fortunately, it is also ripe for exploration and exploitation on our part – there are so many themes to explore (of which the above is only one), it’s like an endless well of human psychology and madness that somehow managed despite itself to be well ordered. The strain and discipline must have been mind-blowing!
Jason: Do you think that the digital era has made it better for musicians to write, record, and promote their music?
The Gentleman: Put simply, yes I do. Without it, I doubt we’d even be having this interview as the world in general would probably never heard of us and our first album would just have been a small curiosity for our friends and nothing more. And again, for what we wish to achieve musically, there is no way we could afford to do it if it wasn’t for the fact we record it ourselves to a large extent.
Jason: What’s your opinion of the internet and its impact on the music scene? Do you think that because of the ease of making music available, the internet has affected the quality of music?
The Gentleman: Not at all, but then it’s not a case of black and white. If anything, I think you could argue that it has allowed fantastic music made by someone in a far off land without a record label easily available. Geography is history. If there’s a proliferation of music you dislike, then simply don’t press the button and listen to it; problem solved.
Jason: Which medium do you prefer: vinyl, CD, or MP3? And why?
The Gentleman: I’m going to say CD, which is probably an anathema to most people. MP3s are okay, but even at 320 kbps they’re still compressed and yucky and you can hear the difference (at least, on my system). Vinyl is beautiful, but it adds something to the original album. A lot of people want that, and that’s great, but I’m a freak who likes a neutral representation of the album, crystal clear, so I can hear the music as it was originally intended, without colouring (of course, my speakers and amp will colour it to a certain degree, but you know what I mean). I realise I’m in the minority here, so I’ll shut up now.
Curse: CD simply for its convenience, but vinyl has to be my favourite medium overall. I view MP3 as a useful stop-gap; good for personal music players, and for appraising music, but I could never replace my record collection with purely digital; I find it too impersonal. I like vinyl for its analogue purity and also for the fact that the packaging is that much bigger, allowing the listener to appreciate the artwork properly. Of course, record covers make a great surface for rolling recreational cigarettes, also!
Jason: Despite the argument that the internet and piracy is having an impact on the music business, bands are being very creative in packaging their music. For instance, vinyl has made a welcome return to the market and all kinds of packages are appearing such as digipacks, picture discs, booklets, etc. Do you think this approach is becoming a necessity for bands to survive?
The Gentleman: I love interesting packaging, and we’ve always tried to produce that, right from the hand-made first edition of the first album. It’s important to me that the art should match the music and that a physical medium is not just another lazy storage space for the music, but a tangible part of it. I loved pouring over every detail in album covers and inner sleeves when I was younger and now I’m actually making them myself, I want to add all those same details, hidden things, messages, lavish art, etc. For me it’s just as much a part of owning an album as the music.
Curse: I would say that it is quite essential to try to produce as interesting an overall package as possible, as I think that in this digital day and age you need to go that bit further with a recording if you want people to make the effort to buy the physical item rather than settling for the binary equivalent.
Jason: You’ve just completed a UK Tour with Wodensthrone. How did it go?
The Gentleman: I really don’t know what to say, other than it was the most humbling experience – the turn out and dedication of fans far exceeded our expectations. We are so lucky to have so many people that enjoy what we do and who really seem to grasp what we’re attempting (and failing in the process). I can’t thank each and every one of you enough. And of course, there is no one better to share that experience with than our very good friends (for life) Wodensthrone.
Curse: The tour has gone wonderfully, by and large. As the Gentleman says, the dedication of our fans is most humbling. Touring with Wodensthrone has been an absolute pleasure, as they are all fantastic people, and I feel that I have made five true friends. We have worked together throughout the tour, helped each other, watched each other’s backs and equipment, and just generally been supportive of one another. Once again, it has been an utter pleasure, and I would most certainly do it again. We also had the pleasure of playing several gigs with Haar and Acolyte, who are also fantastic people and great friends.
Jason: Early days I know, but do you have any plans to tour again in support of the album?
The Gentleman: Absolutely, although there will be nothing now until next year, as we simply don’t have the time. Plans are afoot, though!
Jason: And would I be right in supposing that it’s too early to ask about new material?
The Gentleman: HH Bronsdon, Gastrix and myself have a few songs each that we’re desperate to flesh out and work on, but again, time is thin at present. I cannot even slightly say what we’ll be doing, or what it will sound like yet. And we may scrap all of it and start afresh at a later date, anyway. We shall see!
Curse: Thoughts are rattling around my head for conceptual ideas, and certain things keep recurring, so I think that it won’t be too long before I start to put pen to paper…
Jason: Thanks for taking time out for this interview. Are there any final thoughts or is there anything you’d like to say to our readers?
The Gentleman: Nothing other than to thank you for taking the time to interview us!
Curse: Indeed – many thanks for the questions, Jason!
Jason’s review of A Shadowplay For Yesterdays is here
And you can watch the video for ‘Gatherer of the Pure’ below: